Rafael Benitez’s table-topping Newcastle United are set for their biggest test of the season thus far when they travel to Elland Road to face a red-hot Leeds United side on Sunday afternoon.
Although the Magpies have already faced some stern opposition this term following last season’s drop into the Championship, playing against a club of similar stature, in front of a jam-packed 39,460 crowd, is sure to test their mettle, and Benitez will be looking for United to show that they are no longer inhibited by the frail mentality that has routinely plagued them during such fixtures in years gone by.
Six wins from eight away league fixtures and just three goals conceded is startling evidence of the fresh resilience and efficiency the notoriously feeble Magpies now carry on their travels; with Benitez’s United having a clear, pragmatic and effective approach to grinding out results on the road.
However, although the Magpies away form has been mightily-impressive, you could argue that they have yet to come up against the hostile atmosphere and cauldron of noise that they will be greeted by in West Yorkshire this weekend, with Sunday’s game representing the first meeting between Leeds and Newcastle in 13 years and The Whites first sell-out in over seven.
There was September’s trip to Villa Park, a stadium United fans have a long and chequered history with, however Roberto Di Matteo’s Villa had one just won of their opening 10 league games at that point, and United headed into the fixture as overwhelming favourites, dominating for large periods of the game against a substandard Villan’s side.
Although it’s now sadly a second-tier fixture, Sunday’s tie still has a real big-game feel to it, and a positive result for Newcastle against Garry Monk’s buoyant Leeds United, who have won their last four league games in a row, would really prove their title winning credentials and send a foreboding message to the rest of the Championship.
Both sides head into the game in fine-form, and the enduring eminence of the two clubs throughout the footballing world makes it feels as though more than just three points are at stake.
Leeds fans are approaching this as though it’s their biggest fixture of the season, a perfect opportunity to show that, after 13-years in the wilderness of the Football League, they are finally ready for another tilt at the big time, where they feel that they belong.
Newcastle must be prepared for that and, if the Magpies emerge from the war they are set to enter at Elland Road with three points it will demonstrate how far they have come under Rafael Benitez’s adroit stewardship and present the clearest message yet that they are heading for an instant return to return to the Premier League.
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